Dhaka: At least 16 people, including two women, were killed and over 100 others injured on Tuesday in a powerful “earthquake-like” explosion at a seven-storey building here in Bangladesh’s capital city, police and local residents said.
Eleven firefighting units, comprising 200 firemen, were mobilised at the spot after the blast, which occurred around 4:50 pm (local time) at Old Dhaka’s crowded Gulistan area, the fire service control room said.
“Sixteen bodies have been found (so far), but the toll could rise as the rescue operation is underway,” a fire service official told reporters.
The cause of the explosion could not be known immediately, but local residents suspected chemicals illegally stored inside the building, mostly used as an office and business complex, might have sparked the blast.
“At first, I thought it was an earthquake. The entire Siddik Bazar area was shaken by the blast,” eyewitness Safayet Hossain, a local shopkeeper, told The Daily Star newspaper.
“I saw 20-25 people lying in the road in front of a damaged building. They were seriously injured and bleeding. They were crying out for help. Some people were running around in panic,” he said.
He added that the locals were carrying the injured in vans and rickshaws to the hospital.
Alamgir, who was close to the blast site, said, “After the loud noise, people quickly came out of the building. There was panic on everyone’s faces. The glass of the building’s windows shattered and fell onto the street. Many pedestrians on the street were injured.”
The Rapid Action Battalion’s bomb disposal unit was rushed to the spot to inspect the buildings.
Dozens of injured were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said DMCH police outpost inspector Bacchu Miah.
He added that all of them were receiving treatment at the hospital’s emergency unit.
The building has several stores for sanitary products on the bottom floor and a branch of BRAC Bank was located in the building adjacent to it.
The blast shattered the glass walls of the bank and also damaged a bus standing on the opposite side of the road, reports said.
The police believe it was an accident not a case of sabotage but said they will investigate that possibility, according to Dhaka Tribune newspaper.
Fire officials said the blast occurred on the ground floor and the first two floors of the building were badly damaged.
The blast occurred two days after another exposition at a building in Dhaka’s Science Laboratory area that killed three people and injured several others.
Last week, seven people were killed in an explosion at a private oxygen plant in southeastern port city of Chattogram, injuring dozens others.